Sunday, April 20, 2014
Pati Redeagle remembers the day a little girl approached Ayla Reynold's house at 29 Violette Ave. in Waterville and placed a concrete angel on the lawn with all the teddy bears and other stuffed animals people had left there.
"'Now, little one, you can rest in peace,'" Redeagle remembers the girl saying.
"She was about 9 years old. I had tears streaming down my face as I watched it from my window."
Redeagle, 60, and her partner, John Roy, 62, live just feet from Ayla's house.
They were home when the toddler was reported missing Dec. 17, 2011, and the police came and searched the neighborhood. The couple endured throngs of reporters and camera crews who camped out in front of their house for days afterward.
"About 200 people knocked on our door asking if we knew anything," Roy recalled.
Ayla was reported missing by her father, Justin DiPietro. He told police he had last seen his daughter in her bed at 10 p.m. Dec. 16, the night before. She has never been seen since.
Police have said those who were at the DiPietro house the night Ayla reportedly disappeared — DiPietro; his then-girlfriend, Courtney Roberts; and his sister, Elisha DiPietro — know more about her disappearance than they are saying.
Meanwhile, DiPietro this month was charged by Portland police for domestic-violence assault on Roberts — now his ex-girlfriend — after a lieutenant reported seeing him grab and push her at 11:15 p.m. July 6 on Spring Street in that city.
While DiPietro apparently lives in Portland, his address still shows 29 Violette Ave., Waterville, according to the arrest log of the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office. Neighbors in Waterville say they think only his mother, Phoebe, lives on Violette Avenue now.
I knocked on Phoebe's door last Monday, hoping to talk with her about Ayla, as the case re-emerged in the spotlight with news of Justin DiPietro's assault charge in Portland.
It was a sweltering hot day. The blinds were drawn, as they typically are, and no one answered the door.
In the backyard, a swing set with a plastic pink baby seat was still. A single white plastic lawn chair stood in the otherwise empty driveway.
I wandered over to the house next door and knocked. Roy answered, and we chatted. He showed me the stockade fence he built last fall between his house and the DiPietro home, which is just feet away. Ayla's bedroom window faces Roy's house.
"I said, 'I don't want to look at it anymore,'" Roy said of the window.
He said a lot of thick underbrush had grown up between the houses, and that was another reason he decided to erect the tall fence.
But fences do not erase the memories for Roy and Redeagle, who kindly invited me into their home. We talked for two hours.
Roy said he had broken his leg while trimming brush in his yard shortly before Ayla's disappearance. He was lying in a hospital bed on the third floor of his house when all the activity went down.
"It was like I'm trapped in a bad Alfred Hitchcock movie. I'm in a hospital bed on the third floor with cops and helicopters. It was a real freak show time. I remember being interviewed by the FBI a week or two later as I was sitting in my walker at the head of the stairs. The only way I could get up and down stairs was to drag myself by the railing."
Roy has his theories about what happened to Ayla, but he prefers not to air them publicly.
Redeagle said that as a mother and grandmother, she wants to believe she is alive. She prays for Ayla every night.
"Everybody has speculated that the baby is dead and that someone put the body in the river, and I say, 'No, I don't get that sense at all.'"
She and Roy hope the mystery of Ayla's whereabouts is solved, but they do not hold out hope. Meanwhile, they are reminded often of the beautiful little blue-eyed girl.
"Kids still ride by the house on bikes and they stop and do the sign of the cross, and it breaks my heart," Redeagle said.
That terrible December of 1 1/2 years ago is painfully close for Roy and Redeagle, if they allow their minds to go back there for very long.
"You don't expect it to happen to somebody in the same town," Redeagle said, "let alone right next door."
Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 25 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at email@example.com